New Bill to stop sharia law operating in the UK
Christian Concern: Overview of the impact of Sharia Law on Women in the UK
On 7 June 2011 Baroness Cox introduced a new Bill in the House of Lords intended to outlaw the use of sharia law where it conflicts with English law. In proposing the new Bill she said:
“Equality under the law is a core value of British justice. My Bill seeks to preserve that standard. My Bill seeks to stop parallel legal, or ‘quasi-legal’, systems taking root in our nation. Cases of criminal law and family law are matters reserved for our English courts alone.
“Through these proposals, I want to make it perfectly clear in the law that discrimination against women shall not be allowed within arbitration. I am deeply concerned about the treatment of Muslim women by sharia Courts. We must do all that we can to make sure they are free from any coercion, intimidation or unfairness. Many women say, ‘we came to this country to escape these practices only to find the situation is worse here’.”
The Bill has arisen over concerns about the discrimination suffered by Muslim women under the sharia system. The Bill proposes to protect women by stopping discriminatory rulings that are contrary to UK law and ensuring that Sharia law does not appear to have jurisdiction where it does not.
Sharia law is a detailed system of Islamic law. It is used in both sharia councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals in the UK. The first Sharia Council was established in 1982 in Birmingham. A recent Civitas report suggested that there are now at least 85 such entities operating in the UK and that the Islamic Sharia Council has made over 7,000 judgments. There are currently at least five Muslim Arbitration Tribunals in Britain (Birmingham, Bradford, London, Manchester and Nuneaton).
Rulings under sharia law are enforced through the 1996 Arbitration Act, which states that any form of agreement can be used if both parties agree to adhere to its decision. But Civitas found that the decisions of Sharia courts in the UK are likely to be unfair to women and backed by intimidation, and that Sharia rulings transgress human rights standards as applied by British courts.
The Bill’s proposals include:
- A new criminal offence of ‘falsely claiming legal jurisdiction’ for any person who adjudicates upon matters which ought to be decided by criminal or family courts. The maximum penalty would be five years in prison.
- Explicitly stating in legislation that sex discrimination law applies directly to arbitration tribunal proceedings. Discriminatory rulings may be struck down under the Bill.
- Requiring public bodies to inform women that they have fewer legal rights if their marriage is unrecognised by English law.
- Explicitly stating on the face of legislation that arbitration tribunals may not deal with matters of family law (such as legally recognised divorce or custody of children) or criminal law (such as domestic violence).
- Making it easier for a civil court to set aside a consent order if a mediation settlement agreement or other agreement was reached under duress.
- Explicitly stating on the face of legislation that a victim of domestic abuse is a witness to an offence and therefore should be expressly protected from witness intimidation.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, said:
“We are backing this proposed new Bill and the campaign launched to support it – ‘Equal and Free’. There is much concern about the use of sharia law in the UK and how it is used in a discriminatory way against women. The underlying principles of Sharia law are very different from those found in our domestic law. We want to make sure that women in the UK are not put at a disadvantage due to the spread of these courts. We need to ensure that the law of our land applies freely and equally to all citizens.”
The Bill is being supported by the ‘Equal and Free’ Campaign, backed by Christian Concern. Further information can be found on the campaign website here. The Bill is also being supported by the Christian Institute, the National Secular Society and other groups.
Please encourage members of the House of Lords to support the proposed Bill. Information on how to do so can be found here.
Under sharia law:
- The testimony of a woman in court only has half the weight of a man’s;
- A man may unilaterally divorce his wife and may only need to ‘declare’ the divorce three times in private to do so. By contrast, a woman faces more stringent conditions, perhaps including permission from her husband, payment of money and an application to a Sharia ‘court’. Moreover, a divorced man is entitled to re-marry. A divorced woman is not;
- Regarding inheritance law, men and boys are entitled to receive twice what women and girls receive;
- In cases of rape, four male witnesses are required by a Sharia court to substantiate a woman’s complaint;
- No female evidence is admissible in the case of rape in a Sharia court;
- Upon divorce, custody of any children passes automatically to the man once the children have attained the age of seven and the mother has no rights of access; and
- All jurists, court officials and judges must be Muslims; non-Muslims are not allowed to take part in any way, shape or form, and no woman may become a judge.
Concerns have been raised over whether the principles of sharia law are compatible with the UK law principle of equality under the law.